Rights Pamphlet - Liberia

Jun 1, 2004
Seafarers' Rights on Liberian Flag Ships

CENTER FOR SEAFARERS' RIGHTS
The Seamen's Church Institute
241 Water Street
New York, New York 10038, USA
Telephone: (212) 349-9090 Fax: (212) 349-8342
E-mail: csr@seamenschurch.org

 
As a seafarer on a Liberia flag ship, you have certain rights that are guaranteed by maritime laws and regulations of the Republic of Liberia.

This booklet was written to inform you of some of your rights and to help you find assistance if your rights have been violated. The letters M.L. refer to Liberian Maritime Law (RLM-107) and M.R. refers to Liberian Maritime Regulations, RLM-108 (A). This is not a statement of the law, but only a quick reference based on Liberian Law and Regulations. It does not replace either the full text of laws and regulations or the advice of qualified legal counsel. Some sections of the law may have changed since the publication of this booklet.

The Center for Seafarers' Rights publishes this and other booklets on seafarers’ rights aboard ships of various nations and registries, because we believe that an informed seafarer is better able to defend his or her rights while employed. The Center for Seafarers' Rights is ready to assist all seafarers who think that their rights to fair and decent working conditions have been denied.

We encourage questions, comments, and suggestions from readers of this booklet. Comments and contributions regarding the text are welcome so that corrections and improvements might be incorporated into future editions.

SHIPPING ARTICLES

On board a Liberian flag vessel of 75 net tons or more, every seafarer, except apprentices and servants, must sign an agreement with the Master of the vessel. This agreement is know as “Shipping Articles” and serves as your contract. (M.L.320)

The Shipping Articles are written in English, but a foreign language version may be added to the articles. They must follow the form prescribed by the Liberian Commissioner of Maritime Affairs. (M.L. 320)

The Shipping Articles include:

  • the name of the vessel and its master, the name of the port of departure, and a description of the voyage;
  • your name, date of birth, citizenship, home address and the name and address of your next of kin;
  • your Liberian seaman's book number, your rating, the date and place your wages are to begin, your base wage per month, days of annual paid leave (after one year's service), and the minimum days of paid holidays per year; and
  • the date and place the articles were signed. (M.R. 10.320)

The law does not require that a copy of the Articles be provided to you, but a copy must be visibly posted on board the ship. (I.L.O. Convention 22, Art. 8 ratified by Republic of Liberia, June 21, 1978)

There are several types of contracts possible under Liberian law:

  • a contract for a single voyage. This contract ends as soon as the cargo is unloaded at the final port of destination, or, if the ship has no cargo, when it reaches its final port;
  • a contract for a round voyage. This contract ends when the cargo (if any) is unloaded at the port where you were engaged;
  • a contract for a definite period of time. This contract ends on the date agreed;
  • a contract for an indefinite period of time. This contract ends after one year, if either you, or the master, give five days notice. If no notice is given, the contract continues, but you or the master at anytime with five days notice can end it. (M.L. Sec. 323)

If you believe that your contract was violated, you must make your complaint within one year. (M.L. Sec. 360)

SEAFARER'S IDENTIFICATION AND RECORD BOOK

If you work on a Liberian-flagged ship, you must have a Seamen's Identification and Record Book, which contains a record of your sea service. (M.R. 10.325(1) Marine Notice No. 10.325(1))

Upon your discharge, the master must enter your service in your Seafarer's Identification and Record Book. If you do not have a book, the master must give you a Certificate of Service, which includes the place and date of your engagement, place and date of your discharge, total service, name of the ship, your rating, and the nature of the voyage. (M.R. 10.325)

WAGES AND HOURS

Your wages start on the date given in the contract, or at the start of your work aboard the ship, whichever occurs first. (M.L. Sec. 327(1))

The normal hours of work at sea or in port are eight hours per day.

Any work you do after the normal eight hours must be considered overtime, and you must be paid overtime rates, except in emergency situations as agreed in Paragraph 13 of the Articles. (M.L. Sec. 341, M.R. 10.320)

The master must pay you one half of your earned wages when you ask him ("on demand") at any port in which the ship loads or unloads cargo before the end of the voyage. You may ask for ("demand") this payment only once every ten days. If the master does not pay on demand, and he is wrong, you have the right to be paid your full earned wages. (M.L. Sec. 327(3))

You are to be paid at times specified in your contract (for example, every month). If no time period is specified, then you are to be paid within two days after the termination of your contract, or at the time when you are discharged, whichever is first. (M.L. Sec. 327(2))

Your wages stop on the date given in your contract or when you are discharged. (M.L. Sec. 327 (1))

If the voyage for which you signed a contract is extended (made longer), then you will continue to be paid until the actual end of the voyage. If the voyage is cut short, then you will be paid up until the new end of the voyage. (M.L. Sec. 323(3))

If your contract ends because of:

  • change of flag;
  • change of ownership;
  • abandonment of vessel; or
  • loss of the vessel

You have the right to fifteen days base wages, or base wages until the end of your contract, whichever is less. You will not be paid if you work as a seafarer on another vessel during this period or if you refuse similar work at sea. (M.L. Sec. 324)

If you are discharged through no fault of your own before the voyage begins or before you have earned one month's wages, you have the right to receive wages for your service on the vessel plus one month's wages. (M.L. Sec. 328)

Your right to wages is not dependent on the earning of freight by the vessel. (M.L. Sec. 335)

All advances of wages are illegal. (M.L. Sec. 331)

It is illegal for money to be deducted from your wages to pay an agent to find you employment aboard a Liberian vessel. (M.L. Sec. 331)

You may allot some of your wages to be paid directly to your husband or wife, children, parents, grandchildren, grandparents, brothers or sisters, or to a bank account in your name. (M.L. Sec. 331)

You have the right to a full account of your wages and all deductions before you sign off. (M.L. Sec. 327)

The following are legal deductions:

  • deductions according to the laws of your country or the place where you signed on;
  • dues or other obligations paid directly to a labor organization of which you are a member; and
  • deductions paid into a fund for the benefit of seafarers and their families (with your written consent) to supply hospital care, pensions on the retirement or death of a seafarer, life insurance, unemployment benefits and compensation for illness and injury. (M.L. Sec. 331 (3) (a)-(c))

Your wages and clothing are exempt from attachment by all courts of law. (M.L. Sec. 332)

You cannot lose your right to place a lien on the ship for recovery of wages nor can you give up any salvage rights. (M.L. Sec. 334)

VACATIONS AND HOLIDAYS

After twelve months of continuous work for an employer, you have the right to vacation pay. For the master and officers, the annual allowance must not be less than twelve days base wages. For other members of the crew, the vacation pay must not be less than eight days base wages a year. (M.L. Sec. 333(1))

Every seafarer on a Liberian-flag ship has the right to a minimum of five paid holidays a year. (M.L. Sec. 333(2))

REPATRIATION

When your contract ends, you have the right to be repatriated (at no expense to you) to either the port where you joined the vessel or to another port you and the master agree on. (M.L. Sec. 342(2))

If you are put ashore in a port other than where you signed the Articles, for reasons for which you are not responsible, you must be repatriated (at no expense to you) to the port where you signed on, the port where the voyage began, a port in your own country, or another port agreed on between you and the shipowner or the master. If your contract has not ended, the shipowner may transfer you to another ship until the end of your contract. (M.L. Sec. 342(1))

You will lose your right to repatriation if you fail to request it within one week of the time you are eligible for repatriation. (M.L. Sec. 342(3))

You cannot be required to purchase in advance your own repatriation transportation as a condition for your employment. (M.R. 10.342(3))

You will also lose your right to repatriation if you:

  • desert your duty;
  • enter into a new agreement with another owner within one week of your discharge;
  • break your contract through your fault; or
  • are guilty of a criminal offense under M.L. Section 346 (Intoxication, alcohol or drug-induced, Neglect of duty), M.L. Section 348 (Incitement of Seamen to Revolt or Mutiny), or M.L. Section 349
  • (Revolt or Mutiny of Seamen) of the Liberian Maritime Law. (M.L. Sec. 343)

If you are abandoned by the master through no fault of your own in any foreign place,

You keep your right to repatriation. (M.L. Sec. 351(2))

SICKNESS AND INJURY

If you are unable to work because of sickness or injury while you are serving the ship, you have the right to:

  • full wages as long as you are sick or injured and stay on board the ship;
  • treatment and supply of proper and sufficient medicines and appliances until you are as well as you can be. (The maximum for this treatment is 30 weeks from the day of your injury, or the beginning of the sickness.);
  • the cost of your board and lodging for a maximum of 30 weeks, one third of your base wage after you go ashore for a maximum of 16 weeks, from the day of your injury, or the beginning of the sickness; and
  • repatriation including all costs of transportation, accommodation and food during the journey, including maintenance from the time you leave the ship until the time of departure. (M.L. Sec. 336(1))

You lose your right to wages, maintenance and cure if:

  • your sickness or injury is a result of your willful act, default or misconduct;
  • you deliberately concealed a condition which led to your sickness or injury from the employer before you signed your contract;
  • you refuse medical treatment for your sickness or injury;
  • you are denied treatment because of misconduct or default; or
  • you refused to undergo a medical examination at the time of your engagement. (M.L. Sec. 336(3))

You have the right to a maritime lien against the vessel for any wages owed you under this section. (M.L. Sec. 336(4))

Your ship must have a medicine chest adequate for the number of persons on board and the length of the voyage. The medicine chest must contain a medical guide, which allows crew members to administer the needs of sick and injured persons. The master and other designated officers must make full use of all available medical advice by radio or radiotelephone and provide the necessary information to assist the doctor in making such advice. All cases of sickness or injury are to be recorded in the medical log on board the vessel. (M.R. 10.296(3))

The shipowner or master must take adequate measures to safeguard your property left on board when you are sick or injured and receiving medical attention. (M.L. Sec. 336(2))

DEATH

If you lose your life at sea, a sum of no less than US $10,000, or its equivalent in foreign currency, shall be paid to your designated beneficiary, estate, or personal lawyer, regardless of your nationality, rank, seniority or other circumstances.

The benefit will not be paid if:

  • death was caused by your willful act;
  • death developed directly from a condition intentionally concealed from the employer before the contract was signed; or
  • death was caused by an act of war, declared or undeclared, unless the vessel had entered a known zone of international hostility for the purpose of trade. (M.L. Sec. 336 (A), M.R. 10.336)

Regardless of the death benefits, your spouse, child, parent or dependent relative may bring a suit for damages against the ship or a person or corporation who bear some responsibility. Any suit brought under this section must be filed within two years of your death. (M.L. Sec. 337)

The ship owner must pay reasonable burial expenses and your wages up to the end of the month in which you die. (M.L. Sec. 340)

SAFETY

To avoid too much overtime, and to promote safety of life at sea, a sufficient number of seafarers must be employed on the vessel. (M.L. Sec. 341(3), M.R. 10.292(3))

Passenger vessels must carry on board the number of seafarers certified in survival craft as required by the Commissioner of Maritime Affairs. This information must be recorded on a certificate conspicuously posted on the vessel. (M.R. 10.292(4))

The master of every Liberian-flag passenger vessel must place a deck officer in charge of each survival craft. This person must be certain that the crew is familiar with their duties. Each motor lifeboat must have someone assigned capable of working on the motor. The master must assign to each crew member special duties to be undertaken in emergencies and post a muster list indicating where each crew member must report. The master must also publish the signals for calling the crew to their fire and boat stations. (M.R. 10.296(4))

Fire and boat drills must be held at least once a week on all Liberian-flag ships. Equipment must be checked to see if it is in working condition. Lifeboats must be lowered into the water at least once every three months in port, and the crew must exercise the means of propulsion. (M.R. 10.296(6))

The master must appoint a person or committee responsible for accident prevention. Any conditions on board the vessel, which are not in substantial compliance with accident prevention codes, must be brought to the master's attention. (M.R. 10.296(9))

PROVISIONS

You have the right to an adequate supply of water and food. The food must be nourishing and hygienically prepared, dispensed and served. The Commissioner of Maritime Affairs may, if necessary, prescribe scales of provisions appropriate to the habits and customs of the crew. (M.R. 10.315)

ACCOMMODATIONS

You have the right to adequately ventilated and lighted quarters (sleeping room and mess rooms). There must also be either heating or mechanical ventilation or electric fans depending on the climate in which your ship operates. Adequate sanitary accommodations, including washbasins and tub or shower baths, must be provided. Crew quarters must be kept clean, decent, and free of goods and stores, which are not the personal property of the occupants. (I.L.O. Convention 92, ratified by Republic of Liberia, June 21, 1978)

UNIONS

You have the right to form and join a union. (M.L. Sec. 352)

REDRESS OF GRIEVANCES

You have a right to be heard if something goes wrong with your job, or if you get fired. If you want to make a complaint, you must act within the following time frame:

  • if something goes wrong you must go to the master with the problem within five days. Then the master has an additional five days to solve the problem;
  • if the problem is not solved, you (or the master) can go directly to the employer with your complaint within another ten days and the employer has to solve the problem within twenty days;
  • if the problem is not solved, you (or the employer) can take the problem to the Commissioner or Deputy Commissioner of Maritime Affairs of Liberia for mediation within another twenty days;
  • if you are still not satisfied, there is a further procedure that can be explained to you. (M.R. 10.359(1))

The above list is not exhaustive. There may be other issues on board ship that can be dealt with which are not directly covered by the laws and regulations that are summarized here.

WHERE TO GET HELP

Whenever there is a problem, seafarers may contact the Liberian Bureau of Maritime Affairs and present any claim they may have. The addresses are:

Liberian International Ship and Corporate Registry
Office of the Deputy Commissioner of Maritime Affairs, R.L.
8619 Westwood Center Drive Suite 300
Vienna, VA 22182, USA
Tel.: (703) 251-2407
Fax: (703) 790-5655
Email: info@liscr.com

LISCR Building
Corner Randall & Ashmun Streets
P.O. Box 10-330
1000 Monrovia 10
Liberia West Africa
Tel.: (231) 226-081
Fax: (231) 227-034

New York Office:
LISCR
99 Park Avenue Suite 1700
New York, NY 10116, USA
Tel.: (212) 697-3434
Fax: (212) 697-5655

Field Operations:
United Kingdom and Eire:
LISCR (U.K.) Ltd. Dean Bradley House
52, Horseferry Road
London, SW1p 2AF
England, UK.
Tel.: +44 207 799 3434
Fax: +44 207 799 3456

Northern Europe:
LISCR
Schifflaende 5, Third Floor
Zurich, CH-8001 Switzerland
Tel.: 411-250-8650
Fax: 411-250-8655

Mediterranean:
LISCR
2 Efplias Street
185 37
Piraeus, Greece
Tel.: +30 10 452 9670
Fax: +30 10 452 9673

Far East:
LISCR (Far East) Limited
Unit 1105, 11/F
Aon China Building
29 Queens Road
Central Hong Kong
Tel.: +852 2810 1068
Fax: +852 2810 0023

Japan:
5C No. 1 SS Bldg.
12-20 Hatchobori 4-Chome
Chuo-Ku, Tokyo
Japan 104-0032
Tel.: +81 33 553 4656
Fax: + 81 33 555 9159
Telex: UK 94094835

Finally, if you have a question about your rights, or any problem, you may contact:

Center for Seafarers' Rights
241 Water Street
New York, NY 10038 USA
Telephone #: (212) 349-9090
Fax #: (212) 349-8342